Seed World

Researchers Look at Hacking Photosynthesis to Boost Yields

In an optimized canopy (right), leaves at the top, which receive too much light, might tilt vertically and have smaller and fewer light-gathering antennas (green cones) feeding many reaction centers. Those lower in the canopy would have larger antennas feeding fewer reaction centers. The leaves at the top would have a variant of RuBisCO, an important enzyme in photosynthesis, that had high catalytic activity but not be particularly good at distinguishing carbon from oxygen, whereas those at the bottom might have RuBisCO variants that were slower but less inclined to pick up oxygen instead of carbon.

Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are attempting to redesign photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar and the ultimate source of all food.
One idea is to design a “smart canopy”, a layered canopy of plants that would interact cooperatively to maximize photosynthetic efficiency. The canopy might exploit several tricks to wring the maximum productivity out of light as it filtered through the leaves to the ground.
Researchers believe they may be able to put RuBisCOs — enzymes that catalyze the first major step in carbon fixation — with a high catalytic rate in the upper canopy to make the most of the abundant light and ones with high specificity in the lower canopy to minimize losses through photorespiration where light is limited.
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